What Is the STAR Method of Interviewing?


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As companies fill open roles, interviewers and applicants often use the STAR method for asking and answering interview questions, respectively. Here, we’ll primarily focus on interviewers’ use of the STAR method to figure out which candidates have the skills and experience necessary for a job. However, we’ll also touch on how candidates can prepare answers using the STAR method.

Read more: 11 Opportunities for Your Project Management Career Path

What Is the STAR Method?

The STAR method is an interview technique that usually describes how an applicant structures a response to a behavioral question. However, interviewers can use this method to construct questions that elicit candidates’ responses about examples from previous work experience.

The STAR method stands for:

  • Situation: Giving context for or setting up a problem
  • Task: Describing what the candidate needed to do to solve the problem
  • Action: Explaining how the candidate solved the problem
  • Result: Reporting the key outcomes of the candidate’s actions

Why Use the STAR Method?

The STAR method of questions draws out concrete examples from the candidate in order to assess their personality traits and behavior in certain workplace situations. Responses to STAR questions help you, as the hiring manager, gauge their fit for the role.

How to Craft Questions Using the STAR Method

Interviewers should generate STAR method interview questions that are tailored to the specific role and to the candidate’s own background.

STAR Method Questions for the Role

Before even looking at resumes, think first about the characteristics and behavior that you want the person to demonstrate on the job. Skills and traits to gauge in your STAR interview questions include the candidate’s ability to:

  • Adapt to change
  • Lead a group
  • Analyze data
  • Communicate clearly
  • Make decisions
  • Organize and prioritize tasks
  • Solve problems
  • Work in a team

From there, note questions that elicit a behavioral response from the candidate. Questions that evoke past behaviors usually start with “Describe a time when…” or “Tell me about a time when…”

For shortlisted candidates, prioritize the STAR questions that target traits and behaviors that appear to be missing from the candidate’s profile.

For example, if the role you’re hiring for requires adaptability to change in project management, and one of the top candidates demonstrates few or no examples of that trait, pull your prepped STAR question that targets that skill: “Tell me about a situation where a last-minute issue got in the way of your team executing a project on time. What was your approach, and what happened?”

Read more: What Are Lessons Learned in Project Management?

STAR Method Questions for the Candidate’s Background

Additionally, candidates ideally list results-oriented accomplishments in their resume. In the interview, focus on the achievements that are most relevant to the position and pose a STAR method question that asks them for more information about these.

For example, the question could be formulated as “I see you doubled your team’s efficiency in executing projects. What actions did you take to achieve that?”

Chances are, if it’s on their resume, they’re more than happy to provide more information. A question directly related to their prior experience warms up the candidate and puts them more at ease, as well.

Read more on CIO Insight: Meeting Tech Talent Where They Are: An Interview with Clay Kellogg at Terminal

The STAR Method From the Applicant’s Perspective

There’s usually no way of knowing what questions you’ll get asked during an interview, but it’s good practice to prepare using the STAR method.

This benefits you as the candidate in a lot of ways:

  • You’ll feel more prepared and confident in the interview
  • Your answers will be more structured, so you won’t go on tangents
  • You can better articulate your skills and abilities for the job

4 Steps for Interview Prep Using the STAR Method

To put your best foot forward, preparation is key. Follow these steps:

  1. Read the job description carefully and pick out the skills and personality traits that the company seeks. This may require some interpretation, as the desired skills and characteristics are sometimes implied.
  2. Identify which of your skills and experiences align with those found in the job description. Think beyond just your professional background; volunteer or recreational activities can also demonstrate leadership, teamwork, and other desirable qualities.
  3. For each overlap between your resume and the job description, outline your answer to a potential interview question in the STAR format. Briefly give context, define the problem, describe the action(s) you took, and report the result(s) of your actions. Don’t be afraid to take credit for your achievements!
  4. Practice talking through your answers outloud. Recruit a friend or trusted colleague to provide feedback or conduct a mock interview.

Use the STAR Method to Assess Star Candidates

The STAR Method invites candidates to explain the tangible impact they’ve had in their past roles and helps interviewers decide who’s a good fit for the position. For candidates, the STAR method gives you an opportunity to communicate your strengths in a clear, concise way.

Read next: How to Run a Project Management Internship

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